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The first thing I have to do here is come clean, I have a bias in this field. Firstly, I am fortunate enough to be one of the relatively few people with a paper qualification in the subject - B.Mus (Tonmeister) from the University of Surrey - and I am actively involved in the education of would-be sound engineers and spend two highly enjoyable days each week at the City of Westminster College working with students on their sound courses. These two factors mean that I am almost bound to advise you to sign on for a course of one type or another, and that ideally you should make the City of Westminster College your first choice.
But hang on a minute, why should I be so obvious? Let me state one vitally important fact about working in recording or sound engineering: Even if you achieve paper qualifications as long as a roll of Andrex toilet paper, you will never be able to call yourself a sound engineer until you have practical experience in the real world of work. That means doing a job and getting paid for it, or not getting paid for it if you screw up. I achieved my paper qualification just over ten years ago but it didnt mean a thing until I put in into practice with four years at the Royal Opera House where I learned the meaning of hard work and high standards.
There has traditionally been a battle in this industry between those who say education is important and those, usually without any college based training, who will say that education is a complete waste of time. I would say that the whole point of education (or training, which is a slightly different thing) is to provide a person with a springboard from which to leap into an uncertain future, to impart a range of knowledge and skills which can be adapted to changing circumstances as necessary. And one thing is absolutely for sure, if we dont train people in this country to be competent and creative sound engineers, other countries will, and they will reap the rewards.
Oh, about my other bias, towards the City of Westminster College. Just to make sure that Im fair to all the other colleges I am going to mention, let me advise you not to apply there. The work is terribly difficult, the lecturers are mean and nasty (one of them particularly so!) and we expect three hundred applicants for next years course to be enough anyway. So there.
Before I explain what a course of education or training can do for you, you have to ask yourself what you want to achieve. What are your ambitions in engineering or music? I would expect that most readers of this article would be interested in learning about recording engineering. In fact, recording engineering is so popular that demand for training far outstrips the demand for training in other industry segments, such as public address, theatre, broadcasting and film/video sound. Everyone wants to be a recording engineer. Its only a pity that recording engineering is the most difficult type of course for any establishment to run. To clarify some of the different types of motivation and possible routes to success that exist I have imagined a number of scenarios. Some are not as encouraging as others!